A day looking after elephants
If you’re in Chang Mai, spending a day at an elephant sanctuary should definitely be on your list! These amazing creatures are so incredible close up, it's a privilege to be able to spend time with them, and even better when you know you are doing it in a sustainable and respectful way.
I chose to spend a day at Elephant Nature Park which is run by Save Elephant Foundation (SEF). This non-profit was founded by Lek Chailert, who has pioneered for protection and conservation of these animals across Thailand, and gained global attention for her efforts. Across Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar SEF has converted many other elephant camps to do away with the saddles and chains, and instead support a respectful tourism where you cannot ride the elephants but simply mingle with them in their natural habitat, helping to educate in the process.
The elephants come to the sanctuary for many different reasons, some have been used in illegal logging, others rescued from neglect and the tourism trade. On the bus on the way to the sanctuary we watched a video showing what some of these elephants go through... Their feet getting stuck in manhole covers in the busy streets of Bangkok, calf being taken from their mother's at a young age, being chained up and ‘broken’ so they obey their owners. It was truly horrific to see, but prepared us for some of the injuries sustained by the rescued elephants we would see when we were there.
The sanctuary in Chang Mai is a massive, peaceful place where the elephants can roam free. It has mud baths that we saw the elephants were enjoying, and a river where they are taken every day to bathe. There’s 35 elephants in total, and so much space. We started the day feeding 2 different elephants, and let me tell you they are impatient when there is fruit around! Their giant trunks were chomping at the bit to get to the good stuff! The tips of their trunks move to grip the fruit and it’s sooo cute! Next we wandered around the park and met with different elephants, the park rangers told us their individual stories and how they were rescued. The highlight of the day for me was bathing the elephants, (I’m sure we got much more enjoyment from this then they did to be completely honest! haha) chucking water over them and then my husband chucking water over me in the process. One of the elephants we spent time with had a leg injury due to being in a chain so long, he was a really slow walker and it was heart breaking to see him struggling down to the river behind the rest of the elephants. But lovely to be able to feel we were helping look after them in some small way.
There's loads of places to visit elephants in Chang Mai, and sadly not all of them look after the elephants like SEF does, so do your research before you go and make sure you pick somewhere worthwhile of your money, where you will also get an unforgettable experience, whilst the elephants are also having a peaceful time.
To find out more about the work Save Elephant Foundation are doing, take a look at their website: www.saveelephant.com